Essay, Research Paper
The Good Life
Occasionally I get bummed out and begin asking, “What’s the purpose to life?” I ask this because I see that most people live without purpose, without caring about others or about any cause. For me, that life is not worth living. A world that is composed of people who care nothing for others or for any moral cause is not a world worth living in. I cannot understand why people are willing to go through life without some higher purpose. Therefore I believe that living a good life does require you to serve the interest of others. In comparing two philosophers, Kant and Nietzsche, will result in an agreement that Kant’s theory of a good life is far better than that of Nietzsche.
Unlike many philosophers, Nietzsche never tried to prove or disprove the existence of God, just that belief in God can create sickness; and to convince people that the highest achievements in human life depend on the elimination of this belief in God. Whether God existed had no relevance in his goal. Proclamation of the death of God was a fundamental ingredient in the revaluation of values Nietzsche advocated.
Nihilism is undoubtedly one of the central themes of Nietzsche’s works, but it is not his statement but his question mark. Nietzsche was concerned with the effects of nihilism and looked for ways around its monstrous conclusions. Nietzsche does not, however, succumb to the temptations of the Void but attempts to reconstruct human endeavor in the face of it. He had an ideal world in mind, with an ideal government and an ideal God, the “Superman.” These Gods were a product of natural selection, or social Darwinism. He felt, very strongly, that any kind of moral limitations upon man would only stand in the way of The Superman. “The Will to Power,” his strongest teaching, meant that The Superman should and would do anything possible to gain power, control and strength. If one showed the smallest bit of weakness or morality, he would be killed by the stronger Superman, and taken over, thus, the advancement of The Master Race.
His ideal society was divided into three classes: producers (farmers, merchants, businessmen), officials (soldiers and government), and rulers. The latter would rule, but they would not officiate in government; the actual government is a menial task. The rulers would be philosopher-statesmen rather than office- holders. Their power will rest on the control of credit and the army; but they would live more like the proud-soldier than like the financier.
Nietzsche’s attitude towards nihilism is seen most clearly when he announces for the first time that “God is dead!” This announcement amount to Nietzsche’s recognition that nihilism is upon, for without God, humans are deprived of the supports of absolute values and eternal truths. All views that pronounce such values and truths, or even their possibility, rely on the existence of God. The death of God is what poses the nihilist question for modern man. “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” This is the nihilist void, and far from drawing back from it, Nietzsche reaches out to drag us to its edge and make us take a long look into its blackness. It is not too much to say that nothing is sacred to Nietzsche, without God, sanctity is impossible. Nietzsche exposes the illusions and “errors” that underlie the belief systems that dared to fill the hole left by God’s disappearance.
Nietzsche does not attempt to refute either Christian or Secular Humanist morality; instead, he points out what type of constitution produces this moral system. He also indicates that other moral systems exist that express the perspective of other kinds of humans. While he seemingly attacks what he labels the “slave morality” and exalts the “master morality,” he is simply showing that for some types, the master morality is more appropriate than the slave morality. The crime of slave morality is that they claim universality for their moral system when in fact it is appropriate for only some kinds of humans. Nietzsche recognizes that the slave morality makes sense and is beneficial to certain types. The slave morality is the one that is appropriate for, that makes sense to, individuals that Nietzsche characterizes as “weak.” The revolt of the slaves in morals begins in the very principle of resentment becoming creative and giving birth to values. Resentment experienced by creatures that, deprived as they are of the proper outlet of action, are forced to find their compensation in an imaginary revenge. The instinct of revenge and resentment appears as a means of enduring life, as a self-preservative measure. The hatred of egoism, whether it be one’s own or another’s, appears as a valuation reached under the predominance of revenge.
“Nietzsche condemns the ideals of peace and universal equality, expositing their life-denying qualities. Exploitation and competition, he argues, characterize all living things, because they are the very essence of the will to power.” As one wishes to take this principle more generally, it would immediately disclose what it really is, a Will to the “denial of life.” The self-preservative measure of a community, forbids certain actions that have a definite tendency to jeopardize the welfare of that community. It does not forbid the attitude of the mind, which gives rise to these actions, when it is a matter of opposing the enemies.
Kant’s theories are based on one thing, the Good Will. It is the only intrinsic good, good in itself. Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a Good Will. There are even some qualities that are of service to this good will itself, and may facilitate its action, yet which have no intrinsic unconditional value, but always presuppose a good will. This qualifies the esteem that we justly have for them, and does not permit us to regard them as absolutely good. “The good will is not good because it achieves good results. Even if it were unable to attain the ends it seeks, it would still be good in itself and have a higher worth than the superficial things gained by immoral actions.”
“If nature intended humans to be happy, it would have provided an instinct to this end. What we observe is that the more people cultivate their reason, the less likely they are to find happiness. Kant concludes that reason is not intended to produce happiness but to produce a good will.” In a being that has reason and a will, if the proper object of nature were its conservation, its welfare, in a word, its happiness, then nature would have hit upon a very bad arrangement in selecting the reason of the creature to carry out this purpose. For all the actions that the creature has to perform with a view to this purpose, would be far more surely prescribed to it by instinct. That end would have been attained much more certainly than it ever can be by reason. Nature generally in the distribution of her capacities has adapted the means to the end, its true destination must be to produce will, not merely good as a means to something else, but good in itself, for which reason was absolutely necessary.
A good will is one that acts for the sake of duty. Human actions have inner moral worth only if they are performed from duty. Actions that result from inclination or self-interest may be praiseworthy if they happen, for whatever reason, to accord with duty, but they have no inner worth. “Kant warns that those who fail to understand properly the concept of duty may be tempted to act from motives that may be in accordance with duty or may be contrary to it. But even action in accordance with duty is not enough; only respect for duty gives an action inner moral worth.” It is a duty to maintain one’s life; and in addition, everyone has also a direct inclination to do so. But on this account the often-anxious care which most men take for it has no intrinsic worth, and their asserting has no moral import.
Kant has three ethical propositions. The first is that the act must be done from duty in order to have inner moral worth. His second proposition is derived from the first that an act done from duty derives its moral value not from the results it produces but from the principle by which it is determined. The third proposition is that duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law. An action done from duty must wholly exclude the influence of inclination, and with it every object of the will, so that nothing remains which can determine the will except objectively the law, and subjectively pure respect for this practical law. Moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it, nor in any principle of action which requires to borrow its motive from this expected effect. This is a good, which is already present in the person who acts accordingly.
“The supreme principle or law of morality that the good person must follow is the ‘categorical imperative.’ Rational beings, to the extent that they act rationally, will always be guided by ethical principles or maxims that can be adopted by everyone else without generating any contradictions.” It is the simple conformity to law in general, without assuming any particular law applicable to certain actions, that serves the will as its principle. In one of Kant’s formulation of the categorical imperative, its social implication is more clearly stated. It requires us to treat all human beings as ends in themselves and never as merely means to ends.
We should respect everyone impartially and avoid exploiting anyone. All objects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth, for if the inclinations and the wants founded on them did not exist, then their object would be without value. The inclinations themselves being sources of want, are so far from having an absolute worth for which they should be desired, that it must be the universal wish or every rational being to be wholly free from them. Thus the worth of any object which is to be acquired by our action is always conditional. Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature’s, only have a relative value as means, and are therefore called things. Rational beings are called persons because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves.
Once I believed that the purpose of life was to live for others. I do know people who espouse this doctrine: lay down your life as Christ did. I know few that practice it. I did. I was disappointed. Perhaps I was disappointed mostly because the church I discovered was adamant on being more like the people cited above than like a community attempting to live out Jesus’ precepts. At any rate, I found plenty of crucifixions and no resurrections.
However, there is a purpose to life. This I believe. For belief, I have found is useful, both to the individual and to the whole community. The purpose of life is to serve and enjoy the good forever. One cannot enjoy the good without serving it. One cannot either truly know or reliably continue to serve the good without enjoying it.
Let us stake our faith, then, on this principle: the purpose of life is to serve and enjoy that which is good. The principle can be one of health to the individual psyche. The result can be one of health for the whole of humanity. Balance service to others with enjoyment, for enjoyment, which forgets the claim of the others, will in the end be withered and forgotten pleasure.